Father of IVF wins top award

September 21, 2001

Next year, Robert Edwards hopes to attend a celebration to mark the birth of 1 million in vitro fertilisation babies.

It will be a fitting tribute to the lifework of a pioneering scientist whose collaboration with gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe ushered in the new technology and helped bring the first such infant, Louise Brown, into the world in 1978.

This week, Professor Edwards, emeritus professor of human reproduction at Cambridge University, was due to receive the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award for Clinical Medical Research for his pioneering research on IVF.

Professor Edwards will be 76 next week yet his involvement in cutting-edge research has barely slackened since his first paper appeared in the journal Nature in 1955.

His most recent paper tackles the conservation of homologous genetic systems across species. Such work enables scientists to match animal studies in species such as nematode worms with humans. "Research still holds the same magic for me," he said.

In the 1960s, Professor Edwards worked on stem cells but he concentrated his efforts on fertility.

Research ethics have played a central role in Professor Edwards' career since he first learned about them from Conrad Waddington, professor of animal genetics at Edinburgh University. There was a lot of opposition to his early research but his careful consideration of ethical issues enabled him to confidently address his critics.

"Ethics are essential for scientists who have to place their work in perspective," Professor Edwards said.

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